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As an MD specializing in stem cell orthopedics I often get asked what stem cells are best to help heal orthopedic problems like knee/hip arthritis, shoulder problems, back pain and other common problems.

This is part of a larger question which is what regenerative solution is best and where and how do we place it to best help the body repair the particular damaged structures that are causing pain and disability. Stem cells are only one type of regenerative solution and are generally used with PRP (platelet rick plasma) from your blood. The type of stem cells or solutions we use and how we use them have a huge impact on the success of the procedure.

The field of Regenerative Orthopedics has been around a long time and includes many different kinds of solutions. For many years doctors used a dextrose solution to help heal joints (Prolotherapy). About a decade ago we started to use PRP (platelet rich plasma) which was the first biologic regenerative solution and greatly enhanced our regenerative power. In the last 6 years or so we have added stem cells to the choices available. Stem cells are the cells that built us in the first place- they are immensely powerful and can rebuild virtually any tissue in the body.

For orthopedic applications the most common types of stem cells used are either umbilical (from newborn umbilical cords) or autologous from your own body, either bone marrow or from your fat. For most cases I do not recommend umbilical. Although the idea of  using the stem cells of a newborn is compelling, it actuality doesn’t work that well. Recent studies have found that the cells are mostly dead and there is always the risk of contamination. Also, I don’t like the idea of using foreign genetic material. Lastly, to properly treat most orthopedic conditions you need much more volume than is commonly provided by umbilical stem cell companies.

Autologous stem cells (from your own body) on the other hand, are freshly prepared and have much greater amounts of growth factors. Also, since the cells are from your own body, you can harvest however many stem cells you need for a given application. In addition, cells from your own body contain your own DNA and genetic blueprint of how best to rebuild you.  When choosing between bone marrow and fat, such factors as how much body fat the patient has available for harvesting is important. For orthopedic applications fat cells have more potency than bone marrow and are easier (and more pleasant!) to harvest.

Ideally for any given patient, a doctor might use a combination of dextrose, PRP and autologous stem cells, properly apportioned and injected on a priority basis at the root cause of problems. In addition, since many pain generators are contained in the myofascia, it is important that the doctor has proper palpation skills in order to properly identify and prioritize the primary pain generators (with the jump sign) and to ensure that the patient gets all his pain generators attended to.

Properly used, stem cells are very powerful healing agents that have the potential to heal most common orthopedic problems in a very efficient and elegant manner. The procedure is minimally invasive and done in 3-4 hours in the office setting with only local anesthesia. Patients walk in and walk out a few hours later, returning to activities of daily living almost immediately. If properly done there is a better than 80% success rate, very little downtime and it’s very safe.

If you have a significant orthopedic concern, I would highly recommend that you fully explore the stem cell option prior to considering surgery. In many cases there may be a simple and safe solution that obviates the need for surgery. This is the Medicine of the Future!

About Dr. Walter: Mark Walter MD, CM, CCFP has pioneered the field of Regenerative Orthopedics for the last 20 years and is considered one of the top Stem Cell Orthopedic specialists in Florida. Dr. Walter received his M.D. degree from McGill (1980) and completed his residency in Family Practice and Sports Medicine in 1982. He went on to do five years of post-doc fellowship work in Regenerative Orthopedics with the world-renowned Hackett-Hemwall foundation, in association with the University of Wisconsin. During that period Dr. Walter was mentored by and worked with some of the top regenerative orthopedic teachers in the world. Dr. Walter is a leading expert in Myofascial pain generators and ligament and tendon regeneration.

For more information, to schedule a personal consultation with Dr. Walter (by phone or in-person) or, if you live in the Tampa-Sarasota region, to join us for a free seminar, please call Stem Cell Orthopedics in Sarasota, FL at (941) 955-4325

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